I am slowly getting back on West Coast time since returning from the week-long death vigil visit to North Carolina. Watching a little girl weeping, lying across her dead father‘s chest in Duke University Hospital — which I thought surely was the low point of the week, was not. It only got worse as the eight day visit progressed. Our planned five day visit became eight days due to the storms that ice-frosted the American South, and snow-drifted the northern East Coast.
I thought, in the long sleepless hours of night there, about this blog and its purpose. It is the sub-title that most brings me back here in spite of disillusionment : “Be careful what you worship.” In the surround of another family’s home; I found myself staring at a new set of priorities. The holiday season had been in play when a grown man collapsed to begin his long dying of a blood-choked brain – so boxes of toys scattered amidst confetti was somewhat expected. But so many toys in that household were forever unplayed with that my mind reeled.
Our dead friend had been a collector: of KISS memorabilia, of various toys. He apparently was passing on his love of collections to his children. But one set of “collectables” in particular horrified me. In practically every room, there were stacks of little plastic bits called “Shopkins“. Miniature consumer goods of all sorts, rendered in bright colored plastics, and the brand motto is “Once you shop, you can’t stop.” The bed I slept upon had a Shopkins bedspread. It seemed that personifying consumer products was deemed “play”? It felt like children were being trained to view shopping as a life pursuit. It felt far worse than giving girls Barbies, or toy tea sets or ironing boards. These were not cheap toys; there must have been thousands of dollars worth of them in this one household. Some were not even open, one presumes to preserve their collectible value. I could not help but wonder what precisely was being “worshiped” here.
Is that really what we want to teach our children? That being a consumer is a be all and end all of life? As a woman, once a girl who possessed few toys after age ten, and as a parent, I had thought toys like toy brooms and dishes, trucks and guns, dolls and furniture rather pragmatic — miniature reflections of various aspects of adult life! My youngest son had requested a toy iron and ironing board after seeing me ironing military uniforms – it was as much a part of his image of being military as the toy guns and tanks! I was used to children saying they wanted to grow up to be a fireman, a doctor, a teacher, a soldier….but a child who wants to grow up to shop?!
The image of fatherless children playing with toys urging rampant consumerism filled me with despair. Their young lives have been changed forever by the two week process of their father’s dying. How has their play as “shoppers” prepared them for that unimagined eventuality? What are we worshiping and how does it serve our lives? All of us shop, that is a given; but portraying it as play boggles my mind.
I am home again, in a house un-littered by toys, where books are stacked. Where the “collectables” are a half dozen piggy banks, or a few kachina dolls, blue-white dishes we eat from daily, and sculptures of bears. Perhaps I am just a judgmental old woman with some kind of elitist corn cob bracing her lower spine? Perhaps my own metaphors are just more pleasantly and artistically muted? But my children played with all their toys, and never considered shopping a hobby, nor a mall as a “tourist venue”.